During the recent turmoil with my two computers that died suddenly, I was able to remove both hard drives, connect them to another PC, and recover all my data (using the most indispensable tool in my repair kit).
(In case you're curious, my conclusion is that the drives themselves were sound, but the motherboards in those PCs--or at least their hard-drive controllers--went bad.)
I did, however, encounter one curious obstacle during the recovery process: Whenever I tried to access my User folder and sub-folders, Windows kept telling me I needed permission-and sometimes refused to grant it. Other times, I could give myself access to my own files and data, but then Windows took 10-15 minutes to show the contents of the folder--like it was modifying each and every file inside with new permission settings. (I don't know for sure that's what was happening, but how else to explain the interminable delay before I could actually see my files?)
I'm sure all this has something to do with network sharing or security or the like, but to me it's just a hassle. That's why, for the most part, I store my data not in Windows' designated Music, Pictures, Documents, and other folders, but in folders of my own creation and location.
For example, I've long relied on a folder called DATA-WP for my word-processor files. For screenshots and other images, I use DATA-GRAPHICS. Videos go in DATA-VIDEO, and so on. What's more, I keep these folders in the root directory of my hard drive. That way they're infinitely easier to find than trying to navigate through Windows' cryptic Documents and Settings/Users/Whoknows subfolders--which may or may not be hidden.
Windows 7 fans will point out that the Libraries features is supposed to eliminate, or at least minimize, the need to organize your files and folders this way, but I'm old-school: I like to know where everything is, and I like to make sure I can access it when, say, I'm trying to recover data from a pulled drive.
Does anyone disagree? If so, tell me why you think it's better to leave your files where Windows thinks they should go.
Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at firstname.lastname@example.org, or try the treasure trove of helpful folks in the PC World Community Forums.